Celebrate books this Spring. Here are some wonderful interviews and other book info from the Jewish Book Carnival Bloggers.
The Fig Tree Books blog presents Dinah Fay’s review of Amy Bloom’s Away and notes a new professional role for Bloom with The New York Times Magazine.
On My Machberet, Erika Dreifus recommends Lesléa Newman’s I Carry My Mother as a most moving (and poetically instructive) read for National Poetry Month.
At The Whole Megillah, Barbara Krasner interviews author Devra Lehmann and namelos editor Karen Klockner about the National Jewish Book Award winner, Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker. Two-in-One Notebook Special:Spinoza: the Outcast Thinker with Author Devra Lehmann and Editor Karen Klockner
Lorri M. Writings reviews Safekeeping, : A Novel by Jessamyn Hope
Freelance writer and editor Deborah Kalb interviews a wide range of authors—fiction, nonfiction, children’s—including writers on Jewish themes, on her blog. Please take a look at her Q&A with Shulem Deen about Deen’s new memoir, All Who Go Do Not Return, which recounts his departure from the Hasidic Jewish community in which he had lived for many years.
Jill at Rhapsody in Books and also Legal Legacy reviewed, for Legal Legacy, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” by Ari Shavit. This book, by a leading Israeli journalist, provides a recent history of Israel and discusses the political and philosophical issues raised the actions of, and even the very existence of, the Jewish state.
2 blogs on Sandra Bornstein’s site. The first includes an interview with Rabbi Jamie Korngold. The second reviews 3 of her children’s books. Please feel free to link to one or both. Each has internal links that link back to the other as well as related blogs. http://www.sandrabornstein.
And on http://jodiebooks.com/interviews/ an interview with Janet Ruth Heller about writing Modern Midrash.
Last year I signed on to join a group of hikers walking the Israel Trail. The route stretches from the Red Sea, the southern-most tip of the country, to the farthest point in the mountainous north. Our journey would be divided over the course of two years. We would meet on weekends, sometimes sleeping out in the open, other times in rustic guest houses along the way.
My cover for traveling alone was that I am a writer. My novel is set in the desert and Daniel, our guide, has chosen our route to begin with Mount Solomon, one of the most challenging parts of the trail. Once on the bus, I find an empty seat and spread myself across both chairs. Slowly the bus fills up with a few couples, some single girls, single guys, a brother and sister duo, a family with two kids in their twenties, a triathlete and three retired men.
Arriving in Eilat, it is already plenty hot by 11:00AM. I learn that in order to reach Mount Solomon we must first climb the mountain in our way. Daniel strides ahead, forgetting that some of us have not had boot camp training.
Mount Zefahot, named after its metamorphic rock, is only 278 meters above sea level, but standing on its peak reveals a panoramic view of the entire Red Sea area. Four countries can be seen from this point: Israel, of course, but also Jordan, Egypt, and the tip of Saudi Arabia. The sea, they say, glistens blue all year round.
I like to walk close to the front of the line, believing that if I can see where I’m going it will be easier to reach my destination. My strides, at first, are long and confident.
Where Mount Zefahot reaches the foot of Mount Solomon, we stop to admire the plaque which says that we are standing on the oldest type of rock known to man, solid and resistant to time and whatever nature decides to throw at it. The geology and landscape in Eilat’s area are varied: igneous and metamorphic rocks, sandstone and limestone; mountains, expansive valleys such as the Arava, and the tantalizing seashore on the Gulf of Aqaba.
I look out over the Eilat Mountains, see part of the Sinai desert, Eilat’s bay, the city of Aqaba and the Edom mountain range. The view is simply breathtaking.
Daniel says that the desert holds the cure for the broken heart. With my feet on the stony ground, I stand, waiting, hoping that if I stay here long enough, I will divine the secret.
Everyone I know seems to be suffering from a plethora of ailments on the registry of chronic diseases. For years now, I have been holding hands, massaging backs, encouraging spirits… giving love. It feels selfish to acknowledge that caring for the people I love – watching them struggle to take a step, to pull words from their minds and knead them into thoughts, to find the courage to pretend that things are just a bit better today than they were the day before – has taken a toll on me.
The ascent up Mount Solomon is steep and we proceed in single file. The sun beats down. We stop to drink, and when we resume, I slip back to join the walkers in the middle of the pack. Even if someone were to begin a conversation with me, I feel a need to conserve my strength and focus.
The group’s progress slows, but even the retirees skirt past me. My skin prickles and I feel my heart racing as I slip to the end of the line. I have been warned that a low iron count depletes my energy quickly. Perhaps that explains the feeling I have been carrying with me.
Emptiness can be so heavy.
Parched, my pace up the desolate mountainside drags to a slow slog in the rocky terrain, not a single tree to offer shade. Life in this desert is unforgiving.
Losing sight of the last walker in front of me, I imagine the group has conquered the mountain and reached the bus. When Daniel does the body count, only then he’ll realize there is one missing.
“Where’s that girl? You know, the writer, the loner?”
Having no choice, I press on. Finally, I make it up to the top and sink down beside the other exhausted climbers. I have just enough energy to raise my eyes and glimpse the cool waters of Eilat far below
That night we are to sleep on a kibbutz where an old friend of mine lives. I’d sent him an email out of the blue saying that I might be passing through. The bus pulls in, and there he is waiting to greet me with a handful of dates, freshly picked from their orchards. A hug, and he hands me a thermos of coffee. I’d forgotten what it is like to have someone anticipate my needs. I can barely control the tears.
My roommate for the night is a woman from Tel Aviv. She is a divorced professor of linguistics. I teach English as a second language. We talk about prepositions. I tell her that my Israeli students find prepositions the hardest to figure out because the words in themselves have no meaning. They are dull.
“Prepositions,” she says, while arranging her clothes for the next day, “are about relationships. And relationships are never dull.” With a striking realization, I think of how you can run with someone, run to, run from and – run away.
Totally sapped that night, I am not sure whether I fall asleep or pass out. I awaken the following morning rested and refreshed. Some of the sadness has drained. I gather the supplies I need, preparing to leave the desolation behind. Today’s trek is less steep and I am able to keep near the front of the line. I step up and look around. I am taken aback at the beauty of this piece of the world.
On the way home, Daniel starts discussing the next trip. “You’re coming back, aren’t you?” he asks, and I hear the silence as the others wait for me to answer. I realize that in true Israeli fashion once you are in a group, you become part of the group. I am not like them but having shared an experience with them, I have become one of them. For a moment the weight of my loneliness lifts. I realize that it takes looking up to see what is around one, and I should not be afraid to head towards.
My life back home will have mountains that need to be scaled down, and there will be times when I feel I can’t go on, but in those moments, I must remember that sometimes all it takes is a prepositional shift to change one’s perspective, to turn what is down, and raise it up.
וַיַּכֵּר יוֹסֵף, אֶת-אֶחָיו (Genesis 42:7)
From the Jewish Book Council More All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. This book follows the further adventures of the five sisters and one little brother of the All-of-a-Kind family, and their extended family and friends. This time, the plots include a romance between Uncle Hyman and “greenhorn” Lena and another romance between oldest daughter, Ella, and Jules. There’s the polio epidemic that sweeps through New York City and ends up touching one of the book’s central characters in a major way. There’s the move from the Lower East Side up to the Bronx, which ends the book. And throughout, there are all the Jewish customs to savor and the holidays to celebrate together. Mostly the story is a quiet one, comprised of a series of small, intimate, and lovely moments—the book is old-fashioned in the best sense. Overall, it’s awfully hard to resist the charm of this early twentieth-century family. Highly recommended for ages 8-12. (Reviewer, Leslie A. Kimmelman)
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman. When Joseph was a baby, his grandfather made him a shimmering blue blanket adorned with the moon and stars. As the boy grows and the blanket wears out, the old tailor recycles it, in succession fashioning a jacket, a vest, a tie and, finally, a cloth-covered button. But when Joseph loses the button, even his grandfather cannot make something from nothing. With its judicious repetition and internal rhymes, this thoughtfully presented Jewish folktale will captivate readers right through the ending, in which the boy discovers one last incarnation for his beloved keepsake. (Publisher’s Weekly) And from the author’s blog a lovely story that explains how the genisis of this story. This was published in 1992. An oldie but goodie
Traveling across the land or traveling through a good book (as Emily Dickinson says, “There is no Frigate like a Book/ To take us Lands away,”) opens hearts and minds to new adventures and new ways of understanding the world.
וַיַּחֲלֹם And he dreamed.
From now until the end of Hanukkah check out these Hanukkah themed picture books (tool bar above). Every week I’ll highlight new authors offering great ideas for bedtime books.
Sweet dreams! And don’t miss the Hanukkah-themed work by Israeli authors (interviews and work in English).
וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה There is something so satisfying in reading a book that makes an unexpected belly laugh burst out. Here are fun and funny books to share with a child. Laugh, giggle and groan together.
Don’t Sneeze at the Wedding by Pamela Mayer Illustrated by Martha Aviles Mayer (The Grandma Cure) and Avilés (The Shabbat Princess) find broad appeal and comedy in each of their vividly imagined vignettes, while the growing list of sneeze preventives should resonate with anyone who believes that grownups, too, are capable of saying the darndest things.” –Publisher’s Weekly
Talia and the Rude Vegetables by Linda Elovitz Marshall Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli (Karben). “How can a vegetable be ‘rude’?” Talia wonders, when she mis-hears her grandmother asking her to gather “root” vegetables for a Rosh Hashanah stew. As Talia digs in the garden, she collects the twisted, ornery carrots and parsnips—the “rude” vegetables that she thinks her grandmother wants—and finds a good home for the rest.
Sarah Laughs by Jacqueline Jules Illustrated by Natascia Ugliano” (Karben) The Old Testament says little about Sarah’s feelings, so this moving picture book draws on midrash (legend) and on modern biblical commentary to imagine the inner life of Abraham’s wife.” Hazel Rochman, Booklist.
לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ Though many of us can not get up and leave, go out and explore the world, we can find a way to bring the world to us–through books. Share an adventure with a child. Read a book together and you will discover the world through their eyes.
לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ “It is not good that man should be alone.” We need to share our moments of joy, sorrows, hopes and memories. Reading together and telling stories can deepen our understanding and heighten our emotional experience. When we think things through by talking them over we often reach understandings that are harder, if not impossible, to reach on our own.
This new year I will post a variety of children’s pictures books on topics related to the Jewish experience, Israel as well as review picture books written in Hebrew and published in Israel. Picture books are best read when the listener is snuggled up on a lap, tucked under the covers, or sitting close enough to turn the pages to ask, “Why’s that?”
לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא
Of course, no single quote can sum up the readings for Yom Kippur, but this one reminds us that one should never assume that understanding is out of our reach. One of the things I am excited for this year is sharing books written for children. I plan to post my discoveries here so you can also share a wealth of knowledge with the children in your life. I have reached out to some writers I know, to ask about the their books, and I hope you will also share your favorites with me. New books are great. Classic are fine too, and please don’t be shy to share a treasured book that is out of print. We still read some very ancient texts, and maybe we can make the old seem new again for a generation of young readers!
Listen Up! “Ha’azinu” Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52. Being able to listen, especially to the things we’d rather not hear (about ourselves or about others) is never easy. Often we compliment someone by saying, he or she is ‘a good listener.’ How important it is to have someone in your life who will take the time to listen to you! What a challenge to try and become that kind of listener.
Take a walk and listen to the sounds outside. This requires that your students remain silent as you take them on a walk about their school inside and out. Back in the classroom share the different sounds that everyone has heard. Every student should have a chance to contribute. Listen. Every sound has a story.